“I want to put something back into the community.” Heaven help that community.

What strikes fear into any self respecting higher education tutor, business start up mentor or Miss World Judge? The phrase “I want to put something back into the community”.

Whilst it wants to suggest acts of beneficence and good deeds, all too often the phrase points to a rather nasty slime trail of good intentions over which other people have to delicately step over in order to avoid the results of someone else’s emotional incontinence.

Putting something back in the community begs the question of what did you take out of it in the first place that now requires to be replaced? Are we talking about the Elgin Marbles here? Or gas fracked from underneath our neighbours lawn whilst they were out shopping in Blackpool? Or the settling of old scores which now need resolving by some swift spade work?

Good intentions in the community which go sour was predicted by the German sociologist Frederick Tonnies in the late 19th century. He wrote about community as resulting from one of two types of relationship: one based on Gemeinschaft or one based on Gesellschaft. The former suggests relationships built on blood, family and kith and kin: the latter points to relationships built on contingency, contract and rationality.

He argued that whilst community was constantly a story of one in which our relationships shifted from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft because of the allure of money, fame and fortune, in actual fact we continually hankered after a return to Gemeinschaft and the emotional security that entailed.

In this world view, taking something from your community – whether this be underground gas, pensions, or works of art – meant that whilst it might enable you to large it for a few years in Sodom and Gomorrah, it would only be a matter of time before you repented and wanted to return the remainder of the earth, money or artworks from whence they came.

Whether there is anything worth returning to the community that had been previously desecrated is another matter altogether. So when people profess to want to put something back into the community, it’s always worth asking yourself, whose community, for what reason and on whose terms and at what future cost.

Removing the Rat Runs: call for European Partners

New adult learning programme for 2012: Removing the Rat Runs

We frequently use arts and creative practice in the development of innovative community engagement strategies and work directly with local communities to generate new local policies in the field of health, environment, education and culture. In 2012 we will be focusing on the health and environmental effects of urban traffic and will be doing this through the delivery of our adult learning programme, Removing the Rat Runs.

Removing the Rat Runs: calming local traffic through community actions

The ‘Rat Run’ project aims to increase local communities knowledge, skills and capabilities to reduce road traffic accidents in neighbourhoods and residential areas. Success of the speed reduction programmes in Liverpool UK, for example, has been proven to depend on good communications and building grass roots support and demand for reduced speed. It is the culture shift which ensures successful outcomes on traffic calming and road traffic accidents.
Grundtivg partners on the project will be involved in developing a European project which provides innovative insights and advice on best practice on establishing community based models of traffic calming.
Learners from the Grundtvig partners will be involved in designing local, national and European models of traffic calming based on the following model:

1. Devising a communications plan and overseeing an approach which will include
a. Identification of key stakeholders, interest groups etc and proposals for their engagement and recruitment to the campaign.
b. Utilise appropriate research to develop and co-ordinate a campaign across grassroots and influencers to achieve successful speed reduction
c. Develop key messages based on insight into attitudes, behaviours, motivations and barriers, and co-ordinate use across all partners for engagement and formal consultations to support consistency, using research to support targeting /effectiveness.
d. Develop communications protocol to ensure effective partnership approach
e. Develop supporting branding for partners to use
f. Develop a media relations strategy and action plan that will educate journalists, garner support for the agenda and result in positive media coverage.
g. Support community delivery partner / groups to run effective supporting campaigns – building community ownership and capacity
h. Evaluate the approach during delivery and refine approach in response to feedback

2. Identify community partners / organisations and individuals interested in championing this issue and taking the message into their own communities…eg schools campaigns, Councillors, parent led road safety campaigns, youth associations etc..
3. Ensure appropriate and effective reach of engagement with communities.
4. Facilitate with training, skills, financial and other resources, community led activities and campaigns to build support for the process and shift attitudes.
5. Integrate community activity with implementation phasing and partner agency communications to ensure an effective city wide approach.
6. Develop responsive and pro-active approach to engaging widely and building community capacity using social networking as one approach.

Do you want to be a Grundtvig partner?

We are now seeking European partners who would wish to collaborate on this project through a Grundtvig Partnership scheme. We are particularly looking for partners who:

* Regularly run innovative, creative adult learning programmes especially for disaffected and socially excluded adults

* Have experience of working within Grundtvig, Comenius or Leonardo European funding schemes

* Can bring a portfolio of teaching and learning expertise to the project including technical skills such as website design, production of learning materials

If you would like to become a Grundtvig partner please contact me at:

Aspire Trust Ltd
Valkyrie Lodge
30 Valkyrie Road
Wallasey CH45 4RJ

Tel. + 44 (0) 151639 9231
Mob + 44 (0) 77422 71570
Email nowen.aspire@btconnect.com
Skype name richardnyowen

The Saturday Rough Guide: Devising Community Theatre

Devised theatre is something you either fear and loath, in which you dread the personal haranguing, the criticism from peers and the complete and utter lack of confidence in the material you have come up with…

… or it can be something you come to love and respect in which you are exhilarated by the challenges it presents, the surprises it generates and the moments of understanding and clarity it presents.

When it works well, you come to realise that there’s nothing (much) else in the world that’s worth the aggravation…

… for the rest of us mere mortals the trick is to survive it and try and enjoy it somewhere along the line.

The devising process is as individual as there stars in the heavens: what shines for one person becomes a imploded neutron star of despair for someone else. Consequently this is not a definitive, authoritarian guide. It should be seen as a series of possibilities which you should adapt and tailor to you own particular style and ‘voice’.

THE PROCESS

Devising is a bit like a completing a jigsaw puzzle without having the benefit of having the box top with the completed picture in front of you. There is no mystery to making devised work: the trick is, as our old Danish colleague, Jakob Oschlag, pointed out is to:

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS

If you have worked on devised work before, you’ll recognise that sections of the process (outlined below) can bleed into each other; you’ll also recognise sections which you’re particularly good at and particularly poor at.

In summary they might go like this…

1. Gather and collect: Personnel, ideas, facts, figures, whims, daydreams, ‘what ifs’, impossible scenarios, dull ideas, bright ideas, snatches of speech, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday and not so every day life.

2. Building components: Where are the connections between your collections? What do they lead to? What links suggest themselves?

3. Building infrastructure: Finding the world your production inhabits, its main protagonists, its central ideas, its main arguments.

4. Shaping: Combining the components into the infrastructure. Not being afraid to jettison structures that don’t fit (they may belong to another project which you are unaware of at this point in time) or changing the infrastructure itself. “Killing your darlings” is a phrase you might hear here a lot.

5. Focusing: Focusing the form and content of your piece; being sure that everything in it has a purpose, a role and a function. Making sure essential bits aren’t left out and that un-necessary bits aren’t left in.

6. Rehearsing: Getting the work into a fit shape for presentation. Concentrating on production values to ensure a polished, confident and convincing piece of work.

SOME COMMON HURDLES AND STEREOTYPES YOU’LL ENCOUNTER ALONG THE WAY

1. Anything goes… but everything need not stay
Somewhere at the beginning of the process you are likely to experience that blood rush of having lots of exciting, creative ideas which you are burning to tell the whole group about and get them to take it on board. This is fine and natural and absolutely right for the beginning of the process.

Chances are though that probably everybody will go through that in the group… and that whilst it is the group leaders responsibility to try and look at every idea coming to them , they are not likely to commit to every idea that arrives.

The process of sifting and editing is an essential part of editing; and whilst you may have the most glorious idea and vision, you should accept that it may not be suitable for the particular piece at that particular time and you should be prepared to let that idea drift away should the time come.

This is painful first time round, especially if you have spent a great deal of energy coming up with the idea in the first place but is something you need to come to terms with. Kill Your Babies is something you might hear a lot here.

The thing to remember is that your idea, whilst not necessarily visible, will have caused innumerable and indefinable connections and ideas to have surfaced and so will have had a valuable function in helping create the final piece.

Its also worth remembering that if you get hung up on ‘your idea’ or ‘my idea’ or ‘their ideas’ that actually, ideas belong to no-one and are ten a penny. Ideas are important but not sufficient in their own. Bringing them to a public is as important as their initial generation.

2. The Company of 0 Directors

In an attempt to be democratic, the company of 0 Directors has an individual (the invisible director) who tries their hardest to be the nice guy, the one who wants to minimise (or avoid) conflict and is loathe to upset anyone. The invisible director refuses to make any decision about the project and usually includes every single contribution gathered. This often leads to a piece which is variously seen as surreal or confusing or a mess. It might challenge existing structures or notions of art work but then again it may not: the danger is that it will confuse and dispirit the participants, leading them to feel they won’t get involved in anything ever again. This can lead onto the next syndrome:

2. The Company of 1000 Directors

The first phase of devising is often a very creative, stimulating and exhilarating time what with so much creativity and energy flying around the rehearsal room. However there comes a point, maybe a third of half way into the process where someone needs to start shaping the ideas and structuring them into a performance. This is usually the job of the director (or MD or writer or choreographer) and you may find the way they work a bit alarming after all the freefloating energy and sense of democracy which should have prevailed up until the time they step in.

They may appear short-sighted, blinkered, unlistening or even rude and abrupt. This is because at this point in the process, it is essential that decisions regarding the final structure and content of the piece need to be taken and something approaching the ‘vision’ of the piece needs to established and communicated. Chances are this is best done by a director working with the MD or other relevant staff on the project.

In the absence of this structuring job, the company may revert to the Company of 0 Director syndrome. The temptation often for the other devisors at this point is to chip in and start directing everybody else in the group. This way anarchy lies, especially with a large group, and is something to be avoided where possible.